EDITOR’S NOTE: This is my 100th post for the Slog. To all my readers, thank you for following along. To all my non-readers, you’re not reading this, so I can say with impunity I fucked your mom last night after making her pay for a seafood dinner. And I’m not calling her back.
The dead are back to walking as AMC’s flagship hit shambles back for the second half of its sixth season. No Way Out is an exciting piece of television but its impact not what it could be thanks to the show’s missteps, most egregious being last fall’s whole #IsGlennDead debacle.
In what has become an all-too predictable pattern, the show blasts out of the gates strong (with excellent premieres like Season 5’s “No Sanctuary” and this year’s “First Time Again“) but the momentum from those big episodes is almost always drained by fluff stretched to a breaking point to get to the next “event” episode, in this case the finale, which already promises the introduction of much-heralded Big Bad Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The Walking Dead‘s constant struggle has been making these interludes between the zombie-and-human mayhem interesting.
This half-season, subtitled “A Larger World” after the comic book arc (similarly, this episode’s title is also straight from the comics) promises a new era on the show: one less constrained by the formula of finding sanctuary, losing it, finding another etc. and more by rebuilding civilization, one Medieval brick at a time. The wording is no coincidence; the worldbuilding of different factions, their alliances and history echoes its rival for television omnipotence, HBO’s Game of Thrones.
However, those aren’t issues “No Way Out” has to deal with because it graciously drops us right where we left off. The zombie herd has invaded Alexandria. Rick, Carl, baby Judith, Michonne, Father Gabriel, Jessie and her sons Ron and Sam covered themselves in zombie guts to sneak through the undead crowd. Tara, Rosita and Eugene are holed up with the unconscious Carol and Morgan after the wounded Wolf took Denise hostage and left. Maggie is trapped on a guard tower while Glenn and Enid try to save her. As if that’s not enough, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are stopped on the road back to Alexandria by a bunch of Negan’s biker henchman who call themselves the Saviors.
This opening encounter was teased extensively prior but it resolves itself very quickly via RPG explosion courtesy of Daryl, who gets another badass RPG-hero moment at the end of the episode when the trio finally get back to Alexandria and join in on the climatic melee against the horde.
Prior however, we were treated to Glenn and Enid’s continued adventure in empowerment blah blah blah. After #IsGlennDead, I am burned the fuck out on Glenn/Maggie separation drama so his rescue of Maggie lacked any dramatic tension whatsoever. The best we can hope for is for the show to put this behind it and use Deanna’s (Tovah Feldshuh) death to elevate Maggie to a position of power. And the show felt downright trolly when Glenn and Maggie’s “reunion” (really just her seeing him) nearly ended with Glenn about to be devoured by walkers. Again. But Glenn’s execution (by baseball bat, specifically) was stayed by the machine gun fire of big damn heroes Sasha and Abraham.
Speaking of heroes, the question of who is a hero and who can be a hero was an enjoyable if unsubtle theme to tonight’s episode. Carol and Morgan recovered after their fight over the Wolf’s life while he held Denise hostage in the midst of the horde. This storyline was always intriguing but a tad frustrating, as if the writers’ were uncertain how it would play out. Ultimately, the Wolf actually saves Denise from a walker before being bit himself. He seems almost perplexed by his actions but, change achieved, Carol takes him out but not before witnessing him save her again. Denise returns to the infirmary changed as well, newly confident in her abilities.
I was thrown by how awfully inconsistent the rules of talking around zombies appeared. To me, it was fairly evident the midseason finale last fall implied Sam was blowing the whole thing by talking. But instead we get several conversations in the midst of crisis like it’s no big deal until of course, it is. After night descends, little Sam’s wailing does indeed get the better of him and the zombies get him. Jessie refuses to let him go and gets caught herself. Her death grip on Carl forces Rick to make another sanity-shattering decision to save his son – by cutting her arm off. This guy just cannot catch a break.
The show feels the need to further drive this point home via a bullet to Carl’s eye, shot by a vengeful Ron who was aiming at Rick. Michonne, not one to fuck around, kills Ron while Rick carries the unconscious Carl to the infirmary where Aaron, Spencer and Heath were hiding out. Denise, fresh from her ordeal with the Wolf, has found her confidence and immediately goes to work to save Carl’s life. Rick is left in shock, no doubt realizing that, no matter the zombie apocalypse, getting your kid shot twice before he’s finished puberty is shitty parenting.
Rick, for want of a better phrase, goes apeshit. After handing off his one-eyed son to Denise, he walks outside and goes to town. Soon joined by Michonne and the others, the group of fighters swells with much of the main cast. Carol, Morgan, Tara, Rosita even Eugene and Fr. Gabriel (who had protected Judith at great risk) step up to the plate, with the latter leading his church denizens.
The sequence was a great example of how when the show does things right, it does them very right. Starting with the impeccably costumed walkers, hundreds in number, corralled by famous makeup artist/producer/director Greg Nicotero. His flourishes with Rick’s reaction to Jessie’s death and Alexandria’s fight back against the horde were highlights.
The theme of change was wrapped up nicely by the final scene with Rick by Carl’s bedside as he lays comatose. Andrew Lincoln sells the shit out of yet another of Rick’s speeches (this was a subgenre: Rick by Injured Carl’s Side Speech). He saw that people can change and the world can change with them. They aren’t controlled by the zombies anymore. They can fight them. And win. They can start over in “the new world.”